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Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LION

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LIONShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-half-stars
Series: Grisha Verse, #1
Published by Henry Holt and Company on June 5th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 358
Also in this series: Siege and Storm
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy.

Review:

I originally skipped over Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse Trilogy in favor of reading the much-hyped Six of Crows duology, which is set in the same Russian-inspired fantasy world.  I adored the Six of Crows books so much that I just had to go back and read the Grishaverse Trilogy because I loved this world and wasn’t ready to leave it behind.  I’m so glad I did too because Shadow and Bone, the first book in the trilogy, was a truly wonderful read.

I loved the complex cast of characters Bardugo has created.  First, there’s Alina and Mal, orphans who were raised together and who may or may not have romantic feelings for one another.  Having tested negative for Grisha powers when they were children, Alina and Mal are clearly underdogs in the war ravaged nation of Ravka and I became invested in their journey immediately, especially once their journey takes them across the dangerous Shadow Fold.  A life-threatening incident on the fold changes their lives, however, because it reveals that Alina actually does possess dormant Grisha abilities.  Not only are her abilities powerful, but they could actually be the key to setting Ravka free.

I already knew a bit about the Grishaverse from Six of Crows, but I loved seeing the magical system in more detail and the lavish worldbuilding as Alina and Mal are brought to the Little Palace so that Alina can learn to master her powers under the teachings of my absolute favorite character, the Darkling.  As much as I liked Alina and Mal, the Darkling was really the highlight of the first book for me.  I’m a sucker for a complex, morally gray character and that most definitely describes the Darkling.  On the one hand, he’s quite charming, but on the other, he’s manipulative, deceitful, and basically just flat out horrible.  There are moments when he seems to really care about Alina, but most often, he only seems to be concerned with how he can harness her power for his own needs.  Watching the Darkling go head to head with Alina were some of my favorite moments of the novel.

Shadow and Bone was a quick and highly entertaining read for me because once I got started, and especially once I met the Darkling, I was hooked on trying to figure out what he was really up to and how Alina and her powers fit into his plans.  I’m also glad I waited to read this until all three books had been released because a major plot twist at the end of this first book had me reaching straight for the second book.  Love this series!  4.5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LIONLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert
four-stars
on August 8th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 327
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.

Review:

Little & Lion is one of those books that going into it, you think you’re getting one thing, but what you end up getting is so much more.  Not only did I get the beautiful and moving sibling story that I was hoping for, but I also got a wonderfully diverse story that explored many important and relevant topics, such as sexuality, mental illness, racism, and much more.  In that way, Little & Lion packs a big punch.

I loved how Colbert portrayed the sibling dynamic between Suzette (nicknamed Little by Lionel) and her step brother Lionel (nicknamed Lion by Suzette). They are incredibly close, so close in fact, that Suzette was sent away to boarding school when Lionel was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder because her parents knew Suzette would never be able to focus on her school work and her own life because she would be so distraught watching Lionel suffer.  When she comes home for summer break, Suzette can immediately sense a strain in her relationship with Lionel and wonders how he is really doing.  I loved that Suzette was that tuned in to what her brother was going through.  On the flip side of that, I loved that Lionel, even though he is trying to deal with his illness, still tries to do whatever he can to make things as normal as possible between him and Suzette. Little moments like the two of them hanging out in their old treehouse were just so sweet.  They may be step siblings and only related through marriage, but Little and Lion are truly family through and through.

In addition to this wonderful sibling relationship, Little & Lion is also an incredibly diverse book.  Suzette is black, Jewish, and she is also bisexual.  As I’ve already mentioned, Lionel has bipolar disorder.  Suzette’s childhood friend and potential love interest, Emil, is black/Korean and he is also hearing impaired due to Meniere’s Disease, while another potential love interest for Suzette, Rafaela, identifies as pansexual, and Suzette’s best friend is a lesbian.  I was thrilled to see so much diversity, and I especially liked the way Colbert didn’t make it feel like she was just checking off boxes. All of these characters were complex and authentic.  They didn’t feel like stock characters or stereotypes.

My only complaint is that I would have liked a bit more about Lionel.  Since the story is told from Suzette’s perspective, we only see him through her eyes.  As much as I loved the story as it was written, I think it would have been a 5 star read for me if there were chapters from Lionel’s perspective.  Still a beautiful and relevant read though. 4 STARS

four-half-stars

About Brandy Colbert

Brandy Colbert is the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of Pointe, Little & Lion, and the forthcoming Finding Yvonne and The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Her short fiction and essays have been published in several anthologies for young people. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Backlist Review: Nevernight

Backlist Review:  NevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: The Nevernight Chronicle #1
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 429
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight is one of those books that has received so much hype that I’ll admit I kept pushing it aside on my shelf, fearing that it couldn’t possibly live up to the extremely high expectations I was building up in my own head for it.  I finally picked it up this year for the Beat the Backlist challenge I’m participating in and despite a few hiccups that I had early on, I think it’s safe to say this book really does live up to the hype.  As I was reading, I kept getting the vibe that it was basically a Game of Thrones/Harry Potter mash-up and since I love both of those series, it made for a winning combo for me.

Nevernight follows the story of Mia Corvere, a young woman who has recently lost everyone she loves at the hands of a corrupt government.  Mia’s father was wrongly executed for treason, and as further punishment, her family was kicked out of their home and left to rot in a prison.  Somehow, Mia miraculously escapes and goes into hiding.  She is determined to avenge her father’s death and using a gift she has but knows little about, the ability to communicate with shadows, Mia manages to find a retired killer who is willing to train her in the skills she’ll need to master in order to achieve her goal.

Mia soon finds herself in a position she never imagined, as an apprentice in a deadly school for assassins, the Red Church.  Here, she will continue her education in hopes of being chosen to serve as a Blade of the Lady of Blessed Murder, which would put her a step closer to her ultimate goal of vengeance.  That is, if her fellow classmates don’t kill her first. The competition to become a blade is truly cutthroat, pardon the pun.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, there is also a killer loose within the Church’s halls potentially threatening all of them, Mia is also being haunted by secrets from her own past that have resurfaced, and there also appears to be a conspiracy afoot that could bring down the entire Red Church and everyone in it.

What has Mia gotten herself into and will she even survive to the initiation ceremony, much less live to exact her revenge?

Mia was my favorite part of Nevernight, and her storyline is what gave me the Game of Thrones vibe that I enjoyed so much.  Mia reminded me so much of Arya Stark, who is my favorite GoT character.  Mia is a badass character who is also fiercely devoted to her family and will stop at nothing to avenge them, even if it means making a dangerous journey to a faraway land to receive proper training in the deadly arts she needs to ensure she does not fail.

What I really loved about Mia though is the sense of vulnerability that was also there beneath the surface.  Once she enters the assassin school, she appears to be quite skilled in several areas that are being taught.  Her biggest weakness, however, is that she seems way too quick to trust and make friends with those around her.  Given this is a cutthroat competition where only 4 out of 29 students will be chosen as Blades, this seemed a bit naïve.  At the same time though, while I wanted her to be more vigilant and less trusting, I also just liked how human it made her seem in the midst of such a ruthless and potentially deadly environment.  It added a nice layer of depth to her character and made her more relatable because of course we all want to have friends and she has been on her own since her family was taken away from her.

Mia wasn’t the only character I liked either.  Kristoff did one of my favorite things with this book – he gave me a cast of secondary characters that I also fell in love with because they’re so well-developed.  Mia’s fellow students and competitors were a fantastic bunch and I ended up loving even the ones that I probably shouldn’t have loved.  I found myself giving all of them the side eye throughout the story, trying to figure out if Mia could really trust any of them or not, and I loved that the story kept me guessing throughout:  will they be best friends or will they try to kill each other? Aside from that, I also liked getting a little backstory on them, particularly why each of them had chosen to come to the school. I knew why Mia wanted to be there, but it was equally fascinating to find out the motivations of the others.

Kristoff’s worldbuilding in Nevernight is truly exquisite.  The details were so richly drawn that I felt like I could easily visualize Godsgrave and even more especially, the assassin school of the Red Church.  And this is where my Harry Potter/Hogwarts vibe came into place.  The students are schooled in the areas of weaponry, poisons, pickpocketing, and the art of seduction, all skills designed to make them of service to the Lady of Blessed Murder.  As in the Harry Potter series, we actually follow Mia and her classmates to these classes and watch them progress in their lessons.  The classes are taught by masters in each of these areas called Shahiids, which reminded me of the Professors at Hogwarts.  Every detail of the school was well thought out, down to the contests and point systems in place to help determine the top four students at the end of the term.

Mia’s shadow gift is also pretty brilliant and I love the air of mystery it adds to her character. I don’t want to say too much about it since I think it’s best to learn more about her gift as she’s learning about it.  But can I just say that I want a shadowy “Not Cat” of my own?  Daemon or not, I loved that little shadow cat and the way it talked to Mia and stayed with her no matter what.

 

Overall I loved Nevernight, but I did have a couple of issues, one of which were the footnotes.  Even when footnotes contain essential information, I don’t like them because I find it distracting to have to stop my reading, go down to the bottom of the page and read the footnotes (some of which were very lengthy), and then go back up and start reading again.  I’ll admit that some of the footnotes were humorous and I liked the sarcastic tone of those, but most just left me annoyed that I had stopped reading the main action of the story to get what felt like a tidbit of trivia that didn’t really add much to what I was reading.  I’ve come across plenty of other readers who love the footnotes though, so I’m going to chalk this up as a personal quirk of mine.

I also had a little trouble settling into the novel at the beginning.  The language felt a little stilted and for the first few chapters, I thought the book might end up being a DNF because I wasn’t feeling wholly engaged with the story.  Thankfully though, whatever was bothering me early on seemed to give way pretty quickly to a more natural flowing prose and then I devoured the rest of the books in just a day or two.

 

Nevernight isn’t a book for the faint of heart.  It’s full of bloody violence, coarse language, treachery, and it has its fair share of smutty sex, but if you’re into those things, it’s a wild and entertaining ride!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

four-stars

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is a #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. He grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.

His LOTUS WAR trilogy was critically acclaimed in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, nominated for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards and won the 2014 Aurealis Award. Jay’s new series, the SciFi thriller THE ILLUMINAE FILES, was co-authored with Amie Kaufman. Book 1, ILLUMINAE, became a New York Times and international bestseller, was named among the Kirkus, Amazon and YALSA Best Books of 2015, became a finalist for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and won the 2016 Aurealis Award and an ABIA Book of the Year award. ILLUMINAE is currently slated to be published in thirty five countries, and film rights have been acquired by Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment.

Jay’s new fantasy series, THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, commenced in 2016. The novel was an international bestseller, won the Aurealis award and earned Kristoff his second Gemmell nomination. Part 2, GODSGRAVE, was published in 2017, and won the series its second Aurealis award. A new YA series, LIFEL1K3 has also been acquired by Knopf/Random House Kids, and commences publication in early 2018. A new series with Amie Kaufman, THE ANDROMEDA CYCLE, begins in 2019 with Knopf/Random House Kids. Jay is as surprised about all this as you are. He is represented by Josh Adams at Adams Literary.

Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 12,000 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell. He does not believe in happy endings.

Book Review: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Book Review:  UNSUB by Meg GardinerUNSUB by Meg Gardiner
Also by this author: Into the Black Nowhere
five-stars
Series: UNSUB #1
Published by Dutton on June 27th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 366
Also in this series: Into the Black Nowhere
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB is my first read for the 2018 Beat the Backlist Challenge and I have to say I don’t think I could have possibly picked a better book to start with.  UNSUB is a riveting serial killer thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last, and not only that, but it will also have you screaming for the next book in the series because it ends with a cliffhanger that will blow your mind.

UNSUB follows a cold case that features a serial killer called The Prophet that appears to have been inspired by the Zodiac Killer.  The Prophet terrorized residents of the San Francisco Bay area for several years, leaving behind a trail of bodies, each with the ancient symbol for Mercury etched into its flesh, and accompanied by cryptic messages that were seemingly impossible to decode.  Not only did The Prophet excel in committing increasingly gruesome murders, but he also took immense pleasure in playing mind games with both the families of the victims and with local law enforcement, particularly the lead investigator on the case, Mack Hendrix.  The Prophet was never caught, but he left a trail of wreckage in his wake, including Mack Hendrix, who lets the killer get too far into his head and ends up in a psych ward for six months.  By the time he is released, his career and his marriage are over, and his relationship with his daughter Caitlyn appears to be on the same path.

Fast forward more than twenty years and bodies suddenly start turning up in the Bay area again, complete with the Mercury symbol and more cryptic messages.  All signs point to either a return of The Prophet or else they have a copycat killer on their hands.  It’s all hands on deck to stop the killer as soon as possible, only this time it’s not Mack Hendrix on the case.  Instead, it’s his daughter, Caitlyn Hendrix, who like her father, has joined the police force. Caitlyn is a rookie cop who typically works in narcotics, but because she possesses extensive knowledge of The Prophet’s original case, as well as access to the biggest resource of all, her father, she ends up being assigned to the new case.

Caitlyn immediately seeks out her father, but he is understandably reluctant to help.  This case has already destroyed his life once and he doesn’t want to let it in his head again. And he most certainly doesn’t want The Prophet to target his daughter and ruin her life as well.  Caitlyn chooses to ignore her father’s pleas that she stay far away from the case.  She is determined to capture this killer and bring him to justice, not just because of all of the murders he committed, but also because he haunted her childhood and destroyed her family as well.

Is this killer actually The Prophet returned or are the police just dealing with a clever copycat?  Whoever it is, can Caitlyn find and stop him? And most importantly, can she work the case without letting this killer get inside her head, thus avoiding the mistakes her father made?

There’s so much to love about this book.  Serial killer cases have always fascinated me, as do shows like Criminal Minds, where so much emphasis is placed on behavioral analysis and building profiles of the killers law enforcement is trying to catch.  In many ways, UNSUB reads like an episode of Criminal Minds, which made it a great fit for me.

I loved the pacing, the constant building of suspense as more and more bodies piled up, along with more and more of those cryptic messages.  The author’s use of those messages was actually one of my favorite parts of the book. At times, I felt just as desperate to decipher them as Caitlyn and her team did.  There was something so familiar about them, yet their overall meaning felt just out of reach, and it was maddening at times but, man, did it keep me turning the pages!

Caitlyn Hendrix was also a big draw for me.  I really liked this character and thought Gardiner did a wonderful job fleshing her out and giving her more depth than I was initially expecting from this kind of book.  She’s smart and tough, with great instincts for her job, but then there’s also a touch of vulnerability to her because of the way The Prophet case has impacted most of her life and strained her relationship with her father.  I loved the exploration of the father-daughter relationship that we get throughout UNSUB too. I think it adds a layer of emotional depth to the story without distracting from the serial killer case itself.  That personal touch really took the book to the next level for me and made it a much stronger read than if it had been a straight procedural.

That cliffhanger ending!  I’m kind of kidding here because the cliffhanger in UNSUB is actually brilliant, but I just hate cliffhangers so much.  Thankfully I was approved for an ARC of the second book in the series so I was able to jump right in and continue this gripping story.

UNSUB is truly an outstanding read.  If you’re into serial killer thrillers, you won’t want to miss this one!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A riveting psychological thriller inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer, about a young detective determined to apprehend the serial murderer who destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years earlier.

Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.

The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.

Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.

Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?

five-stars

About Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner is a bestselling, Edgar Award winning author. A former lawyer and lecturer at the University of California, she’s also a three-time Jeopardy! champion. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and lives in Austin.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original. The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. Phantom Instinct was named an O, the Oprah magazine, “Best Books of Summer.”

Meg’s latest novel, UNSUB, has been bought for development as a major television series by CBS.

Find Meg on Facebook: Facebook.com/MegGardinerBooks Twitter: @MegGardiner1 and Instagram: @Meggardiner1.

2018 BEAT THE BACKLIST GOALS & TBR

 

 

The Beat the Backlist Challenge is hosted by Austine at NovelKnight.com and its focus is to encourage readers to finally get through some titles that have been on your TBR for a while, or even those that have gotten pushed aside for new releases.  The primary guideline for the challenge is that the books you choose must have been published prior to 2018.  Also, this challenge  runs from January 1st to December 31st, 2018 so you have a whole year to work on that TBR.  Post updates throughout the year with #beatthebacklist.  The complete details about the 2018 Beat the Backlist Challenge can be found HERE.

I was able to knock 24 titles off my backlist through this challenge last year, so I’m excited to see if I can beat that number in 2018. My TBR is of course still out of control so I’m going to up my goal to 30 backlist books this year and see how that shakes out.  I’m going for a mix of Kindle reads and physical books in hopes of making a dent in both areas.  I’ve made a tentative Backlist TBR list below but I’m a terrible mood reader so this list is subject to change as my moods dictate.

 

  1. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  2. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  3. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
  4. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  5. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  6. Timekeeper by Tara Sim
  7. Vicious by V.E. Schwab
  8. Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
  9. Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
  10. Winter by Marissa Meyer
  11. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  12. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  13. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  14. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  15. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
  16. Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
  17. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
  18. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  19. Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman
  20. Nemesis by Anna Banks
  21. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  22. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
  23. Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello
  24. Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys
  25. Hunted by Meagan Spooner
  26. History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
  27. How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather
  28. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  29. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  30. The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman

I’ll also be participating as a member of the Dewey Dragons BTB Team.  Let me know if you’re a fellow Dragon!

Are you planning to join the Beat the Backlist challenge in 2018?